Traditions stand the test of time, handed down from generation to generation – adding new life, stories, and interpretations to its ever expanding width and depth. During the last weekend of September, Huerfano County will help perpetuate
the traditions of Irish, Scottish, and related Roots music and dance.
Huerfano County is often referred to as “Spanish Peaks Country” for its towering two peaks, West Spanish Peaks and East Spanish Peaks. Indigenous people looked at them with sacred eyes and called them Wahatoya, meaning “Breasts of the Earth.” Part of the Culebra Range of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Spanish Peaks can be seen as far as 100 miles in some directions
Huerfano’s four most populated areas are Cuchara, La Veta, Gardner, and Walsenburg. They are like four siblings with totally different personalities. Walsenburg, the county seat and former coal town, will host the Celtic fest’s Harp retreat as well as the popular Friday and Saturday evening concerts at the historic Fox Theatre. Highlighting the connections between Celtic and Appalachian music, Fridays’ concert, “Scotland meets Appalachia.” will cast the renowned Old Blind Dogs, David Coe and others. On Saturday brace yourself for one exciting Irish hooley when County Clare fiddle sensation Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill and friends raise the boards. La Veta is a charming artesian town that will house the Celtic fest office and is site of many classes/workshops and activities in the La Veta Park. Take a walk around town where the folks are friendly or jump on the train and go up the pass where bears often scavenge fallen grain that have slid from Coors boxcars. For a rustic mountain experience, travel 10 minutes south along the scenic highway of legends to Cuchara. This mountain village could easily be the set for an old fashion western movie. This is still a secret, but how much fun will happen when the Old Blind Dogs and friends meet at the Dog Bar on Thursday afternoon to start warming up for the Festival? On Thursday evening Gardner will host “A Taste of Things to Come,” a preview party with festival performers playing a few tunes or singing some songs. This “locals” event, is a sell-out each year so don’t your tickets a the last minute. Gardner has a colorful history too. Once the hunting grounds for Utes, Comanche, and Apace, it became home to cattle ranches. In the late 1960’s it became home to hippie communes. Most moved when they discovered the realities of rural living – hard work.
Gardner is also home of the Festival founders, Jack and Barbara Yule. Unafraid of work they moved to the area from Scotland a decade ago from Scotland to homestead on 30 acres. Jack is a harp maker and melodeon player and Barbara a storyteller. The festival grew its roots from informal ceilidhs (Scottish spelling for Ceili) that unfolded when they were visited by friends and family from back home.
The Yules European background is the reason behind the unique offering of a countywide festival. Unlike in America, it is not unusual for festivals in the Celtic regions of Europe (and eastern Canada) to have festivals that are spread out over multiple areas or towns, i.e., Willy Clancy Week, South Sligo Summer School, Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann (Ireland), Celtic Colors (Nova Scotia), and Celtic Connections (Scotland). “It is as much a retreat as it is a festival,” said Barbara Yule. “We encourage people to come down for a day or two – more if possible, and build your own experience with the festival offerings, world class performers, along with the sights of Huerfano County.”
Oh, can’t forget the Ceili in the ghost town of UpTop on La Veta pass Friday at noon. This is a free event that was started last year and was a blast. Bring a tune, song, or dancing shows and enjoy the session in the old saloon and dance hall. Pack a picnic (snacks will be for sale) and bring your camera, as the sights are beautiful. Also plan some time to visit the chapel and old depot from 1888, once the site of the highest narrow gauge railroad in the world. Now the site of the highest ceili in the world! Did we say the Spanish Peaks Celtic fest is unique?
7th Annual Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival, September 22 – 25, with music and workshops by Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, The Old Blind Dogs, Robbie O’Connell (Clancy Brothers, Green Fields of America), David Coe, Ed Miller, Margaret Bennett, Roger Landes, Aine Minoque, Kim McKee, Jennie McAvoy, Claire Mann, Linda Hickman, Tanya Perkins, Shay Dunne, Cleek Schrey and more. Visit www.celticmusicfest.com or call 719-746-2061, 719-742-3003, 719-742-5410, or 303-777-0502 for information and registration.